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Continuing Conversation: Science as Story Telling

Science as Story Telling and Story Revision:

The Conversation Continues ...


From an earlier venue (March, 2005 - October, 2007)

Welcome to the on-line forum for Science as Story Telling and Story Revision. Like all Serendip forums, this is a place for public informal conversation. Its a place to put thoughts-in-progress that might be useful to other people, and to find thoughts-in-progress of others that might be useful to you.

My immediate reason for starting this forum was to provide a place where people could respond to ideas presented in Revisiting Science in Culture: Science as Story Telling and Story Revising, and I'm certainly looking forward to hearing what people thought of those and seeing what more might be made using them. Part of the point of the article though was to emphasize the value of their being multiple "stories" of science, so I hope people won't feel bound by the article. It is intended as no more than a take-off point for conversation here, a conversation in which multiple perspectives on science are allowed to rub against one another, each altering and being altered by the others in the process.

Additional relevant Serendip materials

Your thoughts are welcome in the public on-line forum area below. Join in, and lets see what new ways of thinking about science we can create together. Postings will be reviewed to avoid spam, and so may be delayed in appearing.


Serendip Visitor's picture

science as story, everything as story

Many people now realize that even the most rigorous of scientific experiments got influenced by the experimenter. We can't isolate bits of life from the other bits when we are all part of life as a whole. Even so, the experiments are useful and often support useful conclusions that can be used for further understanding of something -- that is, so long as the story is told. And the story teller's personality will creep into that story too.

Even so, I'm saying that the story is the cement that makes science accessible (and does the same for every other field of study, no exceptions here). When I was young, I thought that the identifying feature of a scientist was his inability to write (his story) in a way that anyone else could understand it and relate it to other things in life. My Dad did basic science (pulmonary physiology and the spread of disease) and I was a lab rat from a very very young age (Dad didn't want anyone to think that his kids were in any way too high or mighty to not participate in tests of pulmonary function). Dad wrote his book (not often read but it hasn't been proven wrong or anything) on airborne infection. He got awards for his work. And still astonishing numbers of people don't know that you get a cold from other people's sneezes, either in the same room or spread through the central air conditioning system. What was missing? Not the science but the storytelling. Hey, my Dad's research should have changed the world, so why are we still getting colds so often?

The more I think about this the more I'm concluding that the storytelling function is critical, not just to science but to every academic endeavor. Gosh, it even suggests that disorganized liberal arts students who can write but can't remember appointments (I am the guilty party here) might have a purpose to serve in the world. That would be because science has got to be more than just the competition to publish about "it" first. It also matters that the story be well told, well enough so that other people can take it in, build on it, make use of it and the rest.

I should say the same thing about business, accounting, law, engineering, gardening, road building, you name it. A good education really needs to include some good practice in story telling, don't you think?

[Were you wondering? My Dad was Richard Lord Riley, now deceased.]

Chris Greene's picture

This is fascinating. I always

This is fascinating. I always loved science fiction growing up just because it brought science and those visions of it's achievements together. After high school I came very close to studying physics at university, but the dullness of actual science as it was taught put me off it - there WAS no vision or "story", just bland and arbitrary tasks and equations. I actually ended up as a creative writing tutor of all things, but I still try to keep my passion for science's stories alive by reading about the LHC, watching documentaries, and closely following the work of organizations like the Tau Zero Foundation.

Serendip Visitor Betsy Aziz's picture

writing examples that succeed


Can you direct me to any examples or sources/resources of science writing for the public. I teach and write home food preservation, and wish to start blogging on it. Food preservation (canning, drying, curing, salting, fermenting etc) requires an explanation of basic microbiology and food chemistry. I'm keen to find a better way of conveying information and engaging readers than either:
-the (sorry to say, typical) regurgitation of fact-heavy, dull, bloodless text written by food science types, OR
-the lyrical style of good food writers on food preserving that engages readers with charm and anecdotes but often fails to share much "useful" information.

I'm enthralled by your depiction of the Challenge (playful and engaging but substantive) and would like to find some examples of science writing that uses story-telling narrative effectively.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts

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